Thursday, 30 June 2016

My Reading Heroes.

I was that weird kid that hung out in the school library at break times. I'd shuffle in as soon as the bell sounded, while other kids sprinted out to the fields. I would get in amongst the bookshelves and breathe in the book smells, and damn I was happy. I was me. 

I would write my essays on the student computers, I'd run my finger along each shelf looking for a fresh new title I hadn't yet touched, occasionally I'd even help out the librarian behind the desk with the checking out of books and re-shelving the returns. 
I found solace in books and friends between the pages from a young age. They kept me going on the harder days and accompanied me when I was soaring high - they still do now, of course. Some of these friends were my heroes, for various reasons. These are my reading heroes - the ones who taught me the invaluable lesson that yes, it is okay to read. 


Of course. Every other girl has been inspired - or at least lightly touched - by Miss Granger and her love of academia, adventure and...books. I personally discovered Hermione (and for approximately one year pronounced her name 'Hermy-one' in my head) when I was 8 years old, reading 'The Philosopher's Stone' in a modest lodge in Argeles Sur Mer on the family holiday, after my auntie had got me the books for my birthday because she'd seen kids swarming bookshops everywhere to get them. I was amazed to find this girl, this young wizard girl, who loved reading and learning and was mocked for it but ultimately saved everyone in turn with her knowledge teamed with her limitless bravery. At first I wanted to keep her all to myself. My Hermione. I dressed as her several times for World Book Day at school - wearing robes my mum had made me, with a wand pocket sewn inside, and a toy ginger cat and a stack of books that I carried with me diligently all day. I loved Hermione, because she was different, and she was me. The first character in a book I could see myself in - the me I was, and the me I wanted to be. 

Side note - my lovely friend Fiona Longmuir recently wrote a post entitled Being Hermione. It is about how she is Hermione, and how Hermione is all of us. I could say it's perfection, but don't take my word for it - take JK Rowling's, she retweeted it after all! 


I can recite the Danny Devito voice over that was played during the montage of Matilda growing up in the library and dragging a plastic trolley of books home with her day in and day out. I remember my distress when I watched Mr Wormwood pulling apart Matilda's loaned copy of 'Moby Dick' for the first time. I got up on the coffee table and danced like she did, whirling ornaments and objects around me with my secret super powers. Yes, the film meant a lot to me. One of the many reasons why is this: Matilda read and read and read and she found herself. 

Mara Wilson is still an idol of mine, but for very different reasons these days. Writing reasons! 

I saw Matilda: The Musical recently for the second time in London, and again was reminded what a hero that girl is for young girls and boys, maybe even adults too. My fully gushing feels following that show will be up in blog post form soon.

Klaus Baudelaire. 

The most unfortunate orphans were saved time and time again by this young man's obsessive reading and worldly knowledge he obtained from years spent in their parents' library in the old house - before the kids were cast out onto the streets and made to live with a never ending stream of irresponsible relatives or compromised care givers, which made for upsetting lives for them, but excellent reading for us. 

The Casson Kids. 

As I grew up and moved on through secondary school I soon realised that I hated Science and Maths classes. It wasn't just that I hated them - I was no good at them. I felt stupid. These classes made me feel stupid. From that false stupidity came hate. It seems so silly now - I wrote a letter to my teen self a while back, saying that getting A*'s in English and Drama and Art but just B's and C's in the sciences didn't make me an idiot, it made me creative! 
Anyway, in Science Year 9 I started reading in class. Everyone would have to get their textbooks out and go through exercises, listen to the teacher as he/she demonstrated the experiments, and that's when I'd sneak my fiction books into the spines of my textbook. The first book I did this with was 'Saffy's Angel'. Then 'Indigo's Star'. Then eventually 'Permanent Rose' - although that was tricky as that particular novel was a heavy hardback. 'Caddy Ever After' came later and delighted me when I was recovering from Year 9 Camp. I escaped with the Casson family in all their messy colourful adventures. They taught me so much about being creative, following your dreams, painting murals on walls and...creating your life. Thanks Cadmium Gold, Saffron, Indigo and Permanent Rose. You bright brave bunch. 

Okay, those are my reading heroes. There are probably many more, but that's it for now - these are the fictional friends who taught me that it's not just okay to read, but it's awesome. Thanks, guys. xo

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Barista Tips!

Today, my stint as a barista for Caffe Nero comes to an end. I've already said how crazy it is that I'm leaving, and I cannot say enough how much I'll miss my times behind that bar.
Anyway, onwards and upwards! I now have the skills under my belt and it's time to move on. I've learned a lot in my 19 months with Nero. So much, in fact, that I thought I'd advise any barista newbies (specifically those in the maroon trainee T-shirts at Caffe Nero) on a thing or two...

Become a little bit ambidextrous. 

Bang out the handle and stick it in the grinder while you steam milk. Stir in the espresso and chocolate powder as you tap the screen so the customer can pay. Take all the black bags out in one trip – even the one that has been in the 'knock-out bin', you can do that, I believe in you! Also cram the dishwasher with two loads, one on the yellow pointed tray and one underneath that on the flat blue one. Don't cut corners, just make the most.

Close at 5.

By that I of course mean have everything ready to close well before actual closing time, the time printed up and stuck to the door. Stick everything in the dishwasher except just the one jug and thermometer, and have all the handles cleaned properly with just one still in – ready for those idiotic customers who desperately need a takeaway espresso at 5:58pm. Clean the drip tray and then put a black tray on top of it for that one last handle. Take all the bins out and only use one black bag for the wastage. Sweep and mop as much as possible – do it blatantly in front of customers, makes them hurry to leave!


Be chatty as you serve – turn to the side while you're steaming the milk so you can talk to the orderer as they wait. Also say 'yes' as much as possible when your colleagues invite you out for a drink after work. Y'know, unless they upset you in some way. Make friends. Simple as.

Turn the music up, then down.

That old trick of getting people out at 6pm – make sure that around 5pm you turned the speakers volume up so the customers could get used to the hideous hollow generic playlist surrounding them. Then turn it down – abruptly or gradually, works either way I find – and leave the remaining customers in total silence. Then maybe start clattering the cutlery and battering the dishes to make it even more obvious that they need to get gone! 

Claim your tips. 

Simple as. You earned that extra dolla. Take it. Well, don't take it, not like my evil colleagues do - wait until they're divided up between the team and then pocket them. Treat yo'self. 

Always leave your life at the door.

This has always been my #1 rule for any job – leave the personal problems, the home dramas, the friendship dilemmas, on the doormat or in your locker downstairs. Be happy and carefree throughout your shift – make it all about the customers. High-five your colleagues. Laugh. Brew a cuppa for yourself between serving and cleaning times. Don't let the outside in.
If you have trouble doing this, just remember that you cannot do anything about your issues while at work. So you may as well get happy!

Monday, 27 June 2016

A teeny tiny awkward step for this woman.....

Maybe it's because I recently finished reading 'Becoming' by Laura Jane Williams (little review to come!); maybe because I was wearing a particularly positive raw crystal around my neck yesterday, with another in my pocket; maybe because I spent the entire day in the magical Brighton with a friend who gets me, teams up with me and inspires me all at once - but yesterday I took a step. 

I am a sucker for fate. A believer in whatever happens was meant to happen, what will be will be, and if something doesn't work out the way you think it would or the way you want it to then that's just because it wasn't meant to be, not this time
Funnily enough, this may be another contributor to my 'step moment', I saw and talked with Katie aka Scarphelia yesterday who told me of a time when fate was on her side which then led to a chat about the past and the future and all those random coincidental/fateful happenings. That was lovely. I bathed in my love of the universe and its way of creating very unusual but totally deliberate happenstance. 

I also hope that one day I will have a 'meet cute' story to tell. Well, more than one. I currently have 3 in my head and heart - 3 of my best friends, one of whom I was in a relationship with until recently. All 3 stories involve a strange event, or series of events, when our timelines collided and we spoke a few words ('My motorbike needs a name'/'You're from where I'm from!'/'I like that your tattoos are colour-coordinated') then were in each other's lives forever more (I hope, anyway). So someday, when that person comes along, I hope I - we - will have a sweet little tale to tell our friends over drinks, or a complete stranger in a queue for the teller at the bank or the self-checkout in the supermarket. I want a special, magical, occasion of sorts. 
Bear this in mind when I tell the story. 

Yesterday, I had a revelation. As I travelled through towns on the train, book in hand and coast whipping by through the window, I came across a handsome man. He boarded the train and walked past me, I happened to look up at the right time and lock eyes with him, we both smiled - awkwardly, shyly, then suddenly comfortably and almost...smugly, both of us because we'd made this connection - then the moment passed and he sat across the aisle from me. He chatted with an older man all the way to Brighton, talking about how he voted Remain (good, very good) and how he goes between London and Brighton a lot (excellent, yes) and just enjoying the man's company, which got my interest. Any person who can comfortably strike up a conversation on public transport with a stranger and actually maintain it...they're my kind of person. 
We parted ways as we arrived at our mutual destination, and soon any hope of him extending a metaphorical hand subsided and squashed in my mind as I saw him walk through the barriers and out onto the street. I had sadness in the back of my mind for an hour or so, but then I told myself c'est la vie, drank up my coffee, and that was that. 
But it wasn't. 
I then saw him again as I waited for my train home, the 2-coach train that was rammed most rudely, and my heart genuinely pounded as we locked eyes yet again. I'd had a lot of coffee and then a cocktail, so the buzz was there, but it intensified in this moment. I turned to Leticia and said 'this is too good. It's fate. I'm saying something.' I did just that. I smiled, he smiled, I spoke, he spoke, nothing came of it. He got off the train, I stayed on and I blushed all the way home
I tried. I followed an impulse, I acted on instinct. I surprised myself. That was my step. 

My friend and I had also spent all day eyeing up handsome men and beautiful ladies, as we strolled the back streets of Brighton. I also felt pretty for the first time in forever. I was reminded of the radical beauty to be found down the Lanes, and the little sparks even present at the top of the busy main road. I appreciated attractive individuals, which is something I haven't done properly for a long, long time. I've been dormant for months, in that respect at least. Now I'm emerging. I'm still wanting to spend a while by myself, no attachments, for the near future at least. But if something comes along, quite unexpectedly, on a train perhaps, then I'll...try. I will. I hope. 

Thank you, I guess, unusual train man. xo

Saturday, 25 June 2016

#AskGracie 2.

I often use Twitter for writing type purposes; I ask my lovely friends what I should be writing about, I run polls on which blog post everyone wants to read next. I also enjoy seeing what other writers are up to and so when I saw bloggers running hashtag-ask things I thought I would give that a go, too. 
My last (the first) #AskGracie post went down a treat, so let's do this all again, shall we? I've even made* a graphic this time! 

*credit to Mark Flynn (@MarxFlynn) for the epic design that features in my banner, I just messed around with the original for this particular post!

Once again we will start with beautiful @Jo_Scribbles - thank you for participating again, angel! She's actually running an ask hashtag herself: #AskJoScribbles, get on it, friends! 
'Which writers (bloggers/journalists rather than authors), well known or not, inspire you with your writing?' 

I'll start the answer to your question again with Caitlin Moran, because obvs. Blogger-wise: Emma Gannon, Laura Jane Williams, Megs (for some reason I cannot find her surname, nor do I know it! Whoops, I should probably learn it if we're gonna become besties someday...), Emma Oulton, Hannah many more that I cannot even...! Those are my top inspiring gals. They inspire me to push boundaries, do what I love and become me. 

The lovely @Sophaba asked several questions in one tweet...
'...what do you enjoy most about your job? Favourite movie(s)? And favourite ice cream flavour? Xx' 

  • Making the actual drinks, and serving the customers. I have actually written about this recently - the customers fascinate me and I enjoy chattering with/at them when making their orders. Oh, I also wrote about how I'm leaving this job soon for pastures new. Sorry, Nero gal pal! 
  • 'The Princess Bride', it's the best movie ever. Also '(500) Days of Summer' (read my thoughts on that film here!). And 'Stardust'. 
  • Peanut butter. Or pistachio. Or mint choc chip. A gelato place I used to frequent did a 'peanutella' flavour - peanuts and smooth milky chocolate. Unreal perfection. These days I'm searching for the perfect dairy-free ice cream. Coconut Collab does some beautiful options! 

And then @Green_Tiger_21 went nuts on the hashtag! 
'If your sensible dream is to blog for a living, what's your SECRET dream?' 

Get to a point in my life where I can travel freely and easily between the UK and Australia, whenever I want. One home to another. Also, find my soul mate in some sense. 

'What is the thing in your life right now that makes you truly, incandescently happy no matter what?' 

The future. That I have one at all, and that I'm making one for myself. 

'Favourite kind of cake?' 

Leticia's magnificent VEGAN chocolate and organic peanut butter cake, omg. JUST LOOK AT IT. I had to include a photo for y'all. Follow her on Instagram and get on her giveaway hype, now. 

*Photo credit: @leticiabakes*

'Top words you'd use to describe your favourite animal?' 

Gorgeous, furry, loyal, aloof, ginger. 

'Who is your ultimate role model and why?' 

Louise O'Neill. Because she is a badass activist human, a sublime author, and a supreme Snapchatter. (Read more about my love of her HERE.)


That's it! Another #AskGracie done. Such fun! I'll be back with another next month...probably. Get the Q's ready and I will A them left, right and centre! 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

MORE Independent Bookshop Week - family faves!

I recently sent a photo of myself to Jasmine at Wenlock Books; a photo that featured me with my favourite book that's been published in the past decade. 
This inspired me to do my own post, centred around my family. We 4, each with our fave books...!

Firstly, mama. She chose 'Every Day' by David Levithan, and here's why: 
'Amazingly alternative. Important. To be able to see relationships and people in a completely different way...I loved it.' 

Next, little sis. She has picked out 'Let It Snow' by John Green, Maureen Johnson & Lauren Myracle. Her reasons: 
'I love it when stories are interlinked with one another, it's one of my favourite things; all three stories and all three authors are amazing.' 

And papa, who has bucked our fiction trend and chosen an autobiography. 'The Outsider', by Jimmy Connors. His comments: 
'He gave a fascinating insight into the life of a tennis legend in that golden era.' 

Finally, me. I have gone for the epic 'How To Be A Woman', by my goddess Caitlin Moran. I have two copies because the front one is retired as it is falling apart from being lovingly leafed through and is now signed by the gorgeous author, thus it needed a replacement for general use. Hence its big sis, the silvery copy behind it. Why did I choose this book? 

'This book taught me more than I ever thought possible. And it made me laugh. It made me laugh until I cried; it made me laugh so hard that my tits smothered in sun cream jiggled excitedly as I read it while topless sunbathing in Spain. This woman is unreal.' 

Wow. This post was such fun! I may get the family to feature more often... Once again, Happy IBW2016 folks! I hope you spend this week celebrating your local independent book stores and re-reading your favourite books. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

From Barista to Bookseller: An Upcoming Journey.

In just over a week – and 5 shifts – I will no longer be making coffee for the masses. I won't be earning my living by brewing the sweetest lattes and frothiest mochas. Not any more. It's all coming to an end.

I can assure you all, however, that I will not be losing my coffee snobbery and slight expertise. I will still hunt down the best possible cuppas in a city; I will still live for a good coffee date; I'll still lecture on the difference between a flat white and a cappuccino.
I'll go independent wherever possible now, too, rather than feeding the big greedy chains (which I've avoided doing for some time now, and it's been lovely).

I'm excited to forget all the knee-jerk reactions when someone orders a drink ('regular or large? Have in or take away? Chocolate/cream on top? Do you want a large tea – it's the same price?') and stop resenting the general public as much as I have grown to recently. I'm excited to not wear a black unflattering uniform any more. I'm excited to work regular hours, not 6am-2pm or 12:30pm-7pm, or worst case scenario 6am-7pm...ughh.
But what am I most excited about? Finally being...a bookseller.

That's right, I am making a transition from barista to bookseller. I got one of my dream jobs – starting early July I will be roaming the floors and shuffling the shelves and talking books with people in my local Waterstones, Hastings town centre.
Everyone I've told so far (not many people in person, then of course the Twitter announcement got 130+ likes, so cute!) has immediately gasped and shrieked 'that's like, perfect for you!!'
I feel the same way, honestly. I even said in the (lovely friendly awesome chattery) interview: 'I have applied before but been unsuccessful because that was a while ago and I wasn't ready. Now, though...I'm perfect for this job.' 

Yes, everything is coming up Milhouse.
Now I just have to work my notice at the cafe. It's such a weird feeling, knowing I'll be leaving soon. Counting down the days. The shifts. My dad claims that as soon as you've decided to leave your place of work, even before you tell your manager and colleagues, you are officially 'in the departures lounge'. You've already checked out and committed to the life beyond the place, the people, the job. So it's odd when you make that meeting and hand over that letter, and are greeted with surprise. Because really, you wrote that letter some time ago if only in your mind. You knew this was coming. It's like you were in on a big secret and now you're finally sharing it with others – the people who need to know this the most. Weird.

Then starting fresh! Going to a new place, meeting the new people, working out the new route to work – for me it's getting the train in the other direction, for a third of the time and a third of the price!
I was nervous going in there the other day, to ask about the date of my first shift. I needn't have been, of course, I just built it up in my head to be this enormous moment. I stood outside and stared at the sign above my head, suddenly feeling the newness and the alien despite having been in this shop (and spent a lot of money in this shop) countless times since I was very young. Since it was an Ottakar's. That's right, that's why there's a mural of TinTin on the wall adjacent to the stairs and escalator to the second floor. I've felt so at home in that place over the years, and yet in that one was a new workplace, a new start and a new challenge.

I expect I'll be blogging about my first day, first week, etc etc. as a bookseller. Don't you worry, you'll get updates. For now though, I am in a limbo.
I will give y'all one piece of advice here – and no it's not 'never give up on your dreams' although that is important's 'if you're unhappy, get out'. This applies to all sorts of situations, yes, but right now it's being applied to jobs. Your job. If you're unhappy, if you dread going in each day, if you resent every customer you serve or every email you answer – you must leave. My sensible side will always say 'line something else up first! Get a job in the pipeline, so you don't starve!' But then my heart says 'screw that, make do, just don't be unhappy.'
Mini-lecture over. High-fives all round, guys. This is Gracie: The Grumpy Barista signing off! In just 10 days she'll be Gracie: The Fabulous & Babbling Bookseller. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Independent Bookshop Week, 2016.

I'm taking part in IBW 2016! Oh, all the emails and Twitter alerts about this week have delighted and excited me so. I thought I'd bring it to the blog by doing a post under the IBW Tag that Books Are My Bag launched...bring on the bookishness! 

1. What book(s) are currently in your bag? 

I have just finished reading 'Songs About A Girl' by Chris Russell which I read while en route to work on the train - this guy knows his stuff when it comes to boy bands! I cruised delightedly through the story, it's positively delicious. 
I was beyond delighted to receive 'Becoming' by Laura Jane Williams in the post the other day from my pals at Hodder. In just two days that book has become a talisman of sorts, I'm carrying it everywhere, because she gets it. 

(Instagram: @gracieactually)

2. What's the last great book you read? 

I just finished my proof copy of 'Paper Butterflies' by Lisa Heathfield. It was the first book I'd read in a long while that made me feel everything - it tore me apart and built me back up. Then tore me apart again. I hardly ever cry when reading these days, and yet for the last few chapters of this exquisite novel I was gulping air and hysterically crying that weirdly sounded like wet giggling. I am not selling this right, am I? Trust me guys, it's special. More coherent little review to come. 

3. What book have you gifted the most? 

'How To Be A Woman' by Caitlin Moran, 'Reasons To Stay Alive' by Matt Haig and 'The Time Traveller's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger. 

4. What's your favourite independent bookshop? 

Battle Books, obviously. My quaint little home town's main source of entertainment. I also adore Wenlock Books in Shropshire. They interviewed me once! 

5. What's been your favourite book recommended by a bookseller (or fellow Booktuber/Book blogger)? 

My bookseller friend Jo (@Jo_Scribbles) sent me several proofs a while back which I am still making my way through. Amy (@acharlottew) did the same - I recently read the copy of 'The Square Root of Summer' she sent me! 
My Booktuber and general genius book human pal Stevie (@steviefinegan) recommended I try 'Slave To Sensation' from the 'PSY: Changeling' series as it is similar to my guilty pleasure, the Sookie Stackhouse novels. 
My book blogger friends are constantly recommending me amazing books, I cannot keep up!

6. What's your favourite bookshop memory? panels...signings.....gaaahhh!? 
Maybe when I first met the delightful Lisa Williamson and gorgeous Louise O'Neill at the New Day New Normal event at Waterstones Piccadilly - they both said I was amazing, just because I'd had an aspiration of brain fluid that morning and thus had a gigantic bandage wrapped around my head...
Maybe when I went to buy Patrick Ness' 'The Rest of Us Just Live Here' in Foyles and realised it was half price AND signed...then the same thing happened not long after in Waterstones when I bought Dawn O'Porter's 'Goose' and saw her signature smile at me inside the front cover...gosh, I just love signed books
Perhaps when I first got lost in the magic of Camilla's Bookshop in Eastbourne, with its three floors of books rammed in every which way and stacked sky high. 
Or the truly awesome feeling of walking into my local bookstore armed with a gift card. That's always epic. 

--- No no wait, it would have to be the other day when I got a call and was offered a job in my local Waterstones. *squeals forever*

7. What do bookshops mean to you? What do you love about them? 

Every day, I am thankful that bookshops exist. They make me endlessly happy. I feel at home in a bookshop. I always find something or someone new. I always leave smiling - and often with a very full tote bag, my purse a few pounds lighter. 

8. What are the books that made you? Which books have most affected or influenced you? 

I wrote a post a while back about 5 books that changed my life (in one way or another), and then later on 5 important books that were introduced to me through school. I find something in every book I read, be it good or bad, that contributes to my writing and my life in some way! 

9. What book do you recommend readers gift for Father's Day? 

My dad doesn't read all that much, only on the train to and from work, maybe, and just before bed. He loved 'Shantaram', the amazing novel by Gregory David Roberts. We got him the 'Norwegian Wood' non-fiction by Lars Mytting for Christmas, and he was fascinated by that it seems! He also is currently reading my copy of 'The Perks of Being A Wallflower' and liking it a whole lot. 
I'd suggest something gripping that will take the dads' minds away from their daily lives and stresses. Or maybe a 'coffee table book', easily picked up and dropped when need be. 

10. What book is currently at the top of your TBR pile? 

'Seed' by Lisa Heathfield. 
'The Versions of Us' by Laura Barnett. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Girl Out Of Water - blog tour! + Video Extract #5.

Hey there my bookish friends! I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the hilarious UKYA release 'Girl Out Of Water' by Nat Luurtsemafrom the gorgeous people at Walker Books. They even sent me an extra copy so I could run a Twitter giveaway, which is always mega exciting. Congrats Pippa (@sassyspoonie) who won! 

'A thoroughly British teen comedy starring a hilariously flawed heroine with a quip for every occasion - perfect for fans of Holly Smale, Rae Earl and Jenny MacLachlan. Lou Brown's life is going down the pan. Best friend Hannah sailed through the Olympic time trials and is off to her fancy-pants new swim training school, while Lou's own failure to qualify leaves her without a hobby - or a friend. As Lou tries to navigate her post-swim world, a chance encounter with three boys with stars in their eyes takes her life in a surprising new direction. One that leads to a crazy world of underwater somersaults, talent show auditions, bitchy girls and one great big load of awkward boy chat.' -

It's my job now to reveal the 5th and final video in the blog tour - which contains an extract from the novel and Nat's lovely face. What more could you want?! 

But first, you should probably check out the previous 4 videos. They are here (Maximum Pop! Books), here (Fiction Fascination), here (YAYeahYeah) and here (Teens On Moon Lane)! 

Friday, 10 June 2016

77 years old, 1 year gone.

Dearest Grandma,

It's your birthday today, and at just gone midnight it will have been a year since you left us – I always say 'left us', because for some reason saying 'passed away' seems flimsy and ugly. It doesn't fit you right. 
You seem like an angelic being, full of faith and sunshine, that flew in some time in the late 50s, directly into the De La Warr Pavillion and onto the dance floor opposite this unsuspecting man, my Grandad.
You flew away in 2015, after almost 55 years of marriage; over 52 years of being a parent and almost 22 being a grandparent. 

We take care of Grandad, don't worry. He's saying 'yes' to anything and everything these days, going here and there, keeping busy and letting us be there for him. He's honest about his feelings, too. He tells us when he's having a bad day, when it's all a bit much, when he doesn't fancy doing something...which we so appreciate. He's sharing.
He says he won't be much sadder today, on the anniversary – he says every day is an anniversary.

Grandad often says he feels you around him – I do too, at times. A day will seem especially shiny, people will pass me and smile, sometimes a scent travels through the air and I catch it. We've celebrated all our birthdays in the past year, and you've been present at every lunch or dinner. We always consider you, take a moment to acknowledge you, and I'm pretty sure we all agree that you're nearby.

I have mixed feelings when I see sweet, small older women. Sometimes they are marching along with their partner, or with a group of girl friends. Sometimes they're alone. I hear their voices, their light chattering; I see their bright hair and padded jackets, loose drawstring trousers and sensible shoes; I can smell their perfume and feel their sturdy stubborn temperament beneath the gentle loving warmth.
Sometimes I get upset. I went through a phase of bursting into tears, full-on gulping sobbing tears, each time an old lady crossed my path or sat near me on a train. I'd cry because they are so lovely, so precious, and I don't have one any more. I don't have that in my life. I'm missing it. It's missing from me.
Sometimes I smile. I can't stop myself smiling. I talk to them whenever possible. The other day when I was choosing my lunch in M&S, they all flocked to me asking what was in the meal deal, where they could find this or that...I happily conversed with each of them, so grateful they'd felt they could talk to me – then one exclaimed 'oh, I can't make sense of all this!' and tutted before laughing, and I swear I heard you. It was adorable. I had to pay for my lunch and run around the corner to indulge in a good cry. 

I hope you're alright wherever you are. I'd say 'up there' but that doesn't seem like the right thing to say, either.
On the day of your funeral – wow, that's a horrible word too – as we left the building the service was in I sought out our lovely friend Clare, she hugged me while we both cried and she told me you were with her dad. I then immediately pictured you and Hughie walking along the seafront together – this seafront that exists Somewhere Else, somewhere we can't go just yet – laughing, swapping stories from your families and gossiping about your peers in the little home town. That made me feel everything, but mostly better.
Recently I read a lovely little post online saying that Prince has gone up to some pearly gates to meet Bowie, who simply says 'let's jam'. So they play a gig and raise the roof off the heavens.
I read this aloud to my parents, and they both said 'Grandma could watch'. I like that idea. I bet you'd chatter with Bowie – and get his autograph for dad, even though you have no way of passing it on to him, you'd just want to do that for your son.
You've always been a giver. Mum gave a speech at your funeral about how amazing you were to her when she moved across the world from her family and needed a mum – how you helped her endlessly when she had her two kids, you'd take them off her hands and entertain for hours. I remember that.
I remember you making me peanut butter sandwiches and sitting with me on the carpet putting the Mary Poppins video on; I remember the giggling happening during sleepovers in each of your various bungalows; I remember showing you university prospectuses and hearing your 'ooh's; I remember your excitement the night before my graduation and our jokes about the handsome waiter serving us all dinner.

We still call out 'look at that one, Mervyn!' when a plane flies overhead. Dad is constantly hearing the words 'just like your mum' from everyone. And yes, we are still chuckling at your accidental cheekiness when you told us which kind of apple was your favourite...

We all remember you, we all miss you, we always will.

Hope all is well with you, and that you're having a splendid time every day. 
Especially today, as it is your birthday. 

G (+ J, D, F & M).


Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Girl of Ink & Stars ; a review.

Don't hate me, guys, but I've been in a reading slump lately that seems to have been the fantasy genre. I'll always go for contemporary – perhaps with a touch of paranormal mixed in – when put in front of the shop shelves. 

Bearing that in mind, imagine my excitement and yet slight fear when my friend Kiran Millwood Hargrave tells me (at Perdita and Honor Cargill's launch party, I believe!) her book 'The Girl of Ink & Stars' is soon going to be winging its way to me – and it's a slightly younger fantasy novel. Fantasy! Noooooooo, what if I can't stick it out?! What if I never finish it because the magical world confuses me and leaves me cold!? Help! 

I needn't have worried. From the moment Chicken House sent me my gorgeous proof (which had the phenomenally gorgeous type setting and bordering that the final novel was blessed with! Whoa, photo below) I held it in my hands and I felt something. It was sending me signals. Inky and starry messages of love... 

Isabella Riosse is the beautiful main character, who lives on the Isle of Joya and is forbidden to leave. She dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped. Her best friend Lupe, the daughter of the terrifying Governor, vanishes into the Forgotten Territories and Isa volunteers to guide the search for her, as she feels responsible for her disappearance. She uses her skills as a cartographer’s daughter; making maps and reading the stars.
The lost world awaiting the search party is a monstrous horror, far from the pretty legends – the dry rivers and smoking mountains hide a legendary fire demon that stirs in its sleep. Isabella soon realises she must be the one to save not just her friend, but the whole island.

Things I loved: The pace, the language, the magic. The breathtaking ancient tales. The unique and intriguing characters. The way the story gripped me and wouldn't let go. Kiran's ingenious plot; I felt every detail and every turn.
The fact that I needed a miracle to get me out of my fantasy reading slump – and this novel was just that.

Favourite sentence(s): 'Any man can draw where he's been - Only a cartographer knows how to draw it to fit with where he's about to be.'
'Each of us carries a map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow.' 

Also this book has a cracker of an 
opening line, which got me hooked and excited immediately: 'They say the day the Governor arrived, the ravens did too.' 
- I also loved any mention of burnt porridge. For some reason that made me feel happy-fuzzy. 

If my mad gushing recommendations aren't enough, think about the fact that The Girl of Ink and Stars was Waterstones' Book of The Month in May this year. I'm so happy about this! 
I was totally honoured to attend and then write about the launch at Daunt Books, too. That was a very special night. I could feel the sparkles in the air! 
So thank you again, Kiran, for this perfect book. You really are a star. 

(Photo credit: Kiran Millwood Hargrave)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Night Before.

It's two years. Two years since The Night Before. 731 days – one extra day thanks to the leap year. On 5th June 2014 I was admitted to the neurological centre in the early evening, due to have my first lot of brain surgery – at the time I believed it would be my only lot of brain surgery, ha – the following morning. 

My memory isn't as good these days, I'm frequently forgetting what was said by whom or what happened in which order and when...yet I remember this night most perfectly. Although it wasn't perfect. It was the least perfect moment of my entire life, at that point anyway, when I sat there in my private room along the corridor from the women's ward; staring at the field of poppies framed and hung on the wall at the end of my bed. Thinking of my sister spending the night with the grandparents – we transferred her from our car (and care) to theirs en route, in a handy grassy lay by. My parents would be in the hotel over the road. The hotel that had turrets.
At one point, just as we had slumped and settled into the stifling quiet, my surgeon appeared. He was all smiles, which made us smile of course. His eyes were sincere. He drew on my neck and said he'd be back in the morning. At 8am I'd go in. At 8am it would happen. How funny hearing that.

The parents reluctantly left. I sat for a while, alone. Wondering what to do. I wasn't tired. How could I be? I walked to the loo down the hall. I'd shower in there in the morning. I crept back to my room and got into bed.
Pulling back the blankets and shuffling down into the bed was surrendering. I was giving myself to the hospital. To the professionals. Turning off the oddly angled lamp beside me at 11pm was so ridiculously symbolic it hurt my eyes a little when the darkness overwhelmed me.

I turned the light back on momentarily, and took a photo. For some reason I wanted to. I'd take one the next day, too. Of the twitchy fingers on my right hand, crossed, against the hospital gown. Now though, I captured this strangeness, this unknown – my feet in my koala socks, legs crossed which seemed stupidly relaxed given the circumstances, a little tattoo just about visible. I wanted to grab this moment and remember it, think back to it in the future when all was well. Little did I know I'd be back in this room not even a year later. And guess what? I took the same socks, and wore them on the second Night Before. Like a lame woollen talisman. 
Seeing this photo over the past two years has made me smile, made me tut, made me cry. There's no telling how I'll react each time it pops up. Today I saw it appear on my phone when I woke. And it made me feel...proud. In that moment, two years ago, I had no clue what was ahead. I was falling into the unknown. And I did it. I was a little bit fantastical in my bravery. I have to remind myself of that, now and again. Of that Night Before. 

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